I remember my first fish taco experience like it was yesterday. I was seven years old, and my mother had just picked me up from my Saturday morning gymnastics class. “Yes,” I used to take gymnastics lessons when I was a kid, and “yes” I was pretty damn good, and “no” I’m at all flexible like I used to be. Anyways, my mother got Rubio’s Fish Tacos and I remember being grossed out.
“Ewwwww!” I said, with a sour look of disgust on my face in that annoying way seven-year-olds react to new foods they know nothing about. “Fish in a taco? Gross!”
Like she always did when it came to new foods, my mother reassured me.
“It’s not what you think it is,” She said, “you’ll like it, trust me, and if you don’t, you can have the quesadilla.”
Knowing there was a backup, and that I wouldn’t starve from there being no other option but fish tacos, I decided to try one. And sure enough, she was right. It was love at first sight, and from that moment on, my infatuation with fried fish, special white sauce, cabbage slaw, and salsa grew and grew and grew.
Tacos from South Beach Bar & Grille
Flash to nearly 25 year later, and my brother and I are headed to South Beach Bar and Grille in Ocean Beach for what I’ve come to know as the best fish tacos in San Diego. We stepped over a few homeless stoners begging for cigarettes and change from tourists as we walked by bars, smoke shops and antique stores along Newport Ave. We flashed our IDs, because South Beach Bar and Grille isn’t a place for kids, and within a few minutes we’d placed our order. “Fish tacos please!”
Best Fish Tacos in San Diego
The beauty of a South Beach fish taco is in its simplicity. With only a handful of ingredients, they’re bursting with the most amazing blend of flavors. You can order them with a variety of fillings: mahi, wahoo, shark, lobster, shrimp or calamari, and you can choose between grilled or fried. All tacos come on a flour tortilla, unless you request corn, and they all come standard with shredded cheese, red cabbage, salsa fresca (pico de gallo), and white sauce. Oh and a slice of lime…which is the one ingredient that really ties everything together.
Their fish and seafood is as fresh as can be. On top of that, they fry and grill their proteins perfectly, wrap them in a warm soft flour tortilla, and cover it with a pile of acidic salsa fresca that melts beautifully with the sweetness of their creamy white sauce. The crunch in each bite comes from the purple cabbage slaw, adding a bit of texture to an otherwise soft, rich and chewy yummy-ness. Each bite is a little bit of heaven that you’ll want to savor until you absolutely must swallow.
And they have tons of other great food too. One of our favorite things to order is a plate of flash fried baby octopus.
Once you get over a few things: their little heads bursting between your teeth and their suction-cup tentacles– you’ll find them satisfyingly chewy. Besides, their little fried bodies are the perfect vessel for cocktail sauce and fresh ground horseradish.
Their fresh fish salads are all about the fish, so if you’re expecting some creative lettuce choices or heirloom tomatoes, well, then you’re in the wrong place. Squeeze some lemon on the fish filet and enjoy it with any of a few hot sauces they put on each table or their creamy tartar sauce.
Their crispy corn tortilla tostadas are piled high with salsa fresca, cheese, beans, red cabbage and white sauce. Which is the perfect option for the carb-conscious!
Their oyster platters are pretty traditional, and delicious, with a lemon wedge, cocktail sauce, and mignonette.
They’re a little heavy-handed with the cocktail sauce on their ceviche, but it’s still delicious!
Now don’t be fooled by the ambience of the restaurant, because usually I say the best Mexican food in San Diego is from the most dumpy hole-in-the-wall taco shops, but this is different. Fish tacos are a “Baja” cuisine, marrying the freshness of the San Diego seafood with the lime, cilantro, and jalapeno flavors of Mexican cuisine. And thanks to South Beach Bar and Grille, I think it’s safe to assume that great Mexican-esque food can come from anywhere, even dark carpeted sports bars full of high tops, bar stools, football memorabilia, surfboards, and taxidermy fish hanging on the walls.